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Malaysia allows Catholic paper to use 'Allah'

Govt. order notes the use of 'Allah' is conditional

A Catholic newspaper in Malaysia reported on Friday it had won the right to use the word 'Allah' after a long battle with the government which threatened to close it down.

The editor of the Herald newspaper, Father Lawrence Andrew, said the weekly was now allowed to use the word as a translation for 'God' in its Malay-language edition, as long as it printed "For Christians" on the cover.

"Now we can use the word Allah again and continue printing without hindrance. So with regards to the Herald we are happy," he told AFP, saying the decision came in an official gazette dated earlier this month.

For Christians only

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar had on Feb. 16 signed a gazette that prohibited using four specific words in any document and publication relating to Christianity, according to press reports.

“The printing, publishing, sale, issue, circulation and possession of any document and publication relating to Christianity containing the words Allah, Kaabah, Baitullah and Solat are prohibited unless on the front cover of the document and publication are written with the words ‘For Christianity',” the gazette noted.'

The ban was noted in the gazette under the section: Prohibition On Use of Specific Words on Document and Publication.

The order allows Christian publications to use the word of 'Allah' only in print and with the condition that these publications clearly state their Christian orientation in the front cover, according to press reports.

Malaysia's government had argued that the word should be used only by Muslims, who dominate the population of this multicultural nation.

Now we can use the word Allah again and continue printing without hindrance. So with regards to the Herald we are happy

Father Lawrence Andrew

Word dispute

Andrew maintained that Malaysian Christians have been using the word "Allah" for centuries in translations of the Bible, and in popular prayers like the "Hail Mary."

The Herald, circulated among the country's 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing license last year for using the disputed word.

Andrew welcomed the decision on the issue which is one of several wrangles between the government and minority groups.

"People are able to discuss this openly and maturely, that's a good sign," he said.

However, Andrew said the Herald would continue with a court case which it started to force the government to allow it to print the word "Allah."

"We have started the case and we just can't pull out until we... study the new gazette, and see what the implications are," he said.

Home Ministry officials were not immediately available to confirm the decision, but in newspaper reports they confirmed the contents of the gazette.

Around 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people are Muslim Malays.

The rest of the population takes in indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians, variously practicing Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.

We have started the case and we just can't pull out until we... study the new gazette, and see what the implications are

Father Lawrence Andrew